Harvest children and an explosion inquest - our look at the East Cambs archives

Children help with harvest in 1951

Harvest Working kids - June 27, 1951: Cambridgeshire Education Committee decided by a single vote that schoolchildren might once again be released for agricultural work this year. Mr A.R. Greenslade, a farmer, said agriculture had had the help of schoolchildren for centuries. They were already taken to do carpentry, metalwork and gardening. Mrs Rackham said they had been stopped from working in the Isle of Ely and Huntingdonshire. Dr R.F. Rattray thought it very desirable for children to help on the land. They should have experience of doing real work in the interest of the country & great educational advantage would be accrued. Others said there was no evidence that their services were required. “They will all apply to work in the fields and it is going to throw our schools into a state of upheaval”, said Mr S.A. Martin. - Credit: MIKE PETTY

From harvest working children to an explosion inquest, delve into our weekly step back in time through the archives of Ely and East Cambridgeshire.

Cambridge bus excursion to Ely c1905

Leave Cambridge 6.40, arrive Hunstanton 2.20 - July 1, 1905: the ‘Light Blue’ bus was chartered to take 20 King’s College men to Hunstanton and back. The driver sent telegrams reporting their progress. The bus departed at 6.40 and reached at Ely at 7.50 where the party breakfasted before finally arriving at 2.20 in the afternoon. The return journey commenced at 4 pm and the passengers were safe landed in Cambridge just before eleven. All agreed the trip was successful: the roads were perfect, the scenery appreciated and only one light shower fell. The bus pulled well and travelled the 120 miles without the slightest hitch. - Credit: MIKE PETTY

You can follow Mike Petty’s research through his Facebook page, Fenland History on Facebook.  

Littleport Forage Factory Fire - July 2 1906

Littleport Forage Factory Fire - July 2 1906. An extensive fire resulted in the complete destruction of Fyfe’s forage factory at Littleport. The three-storey building of wood and corrugated iron was situated between the river and the railway line, and filled with inflammable material. Once well alight total destruction was inevitable. Two cylinders used for steaming chaff remain amidst a great mass of charred beams and sheets of iron twisted by intense heat into all manner of fantastic shapes. The factory caught fire again in 1914. - Credit: MIKE PETTY

Recruiting was needed to replace casualties, August 1915.

In July of 1915, a Cambridgeshire newspaper reported on interference with recruiting for the First World War. The smart sentence (three months hard labour) passed upon a man at Cambridge this week for influencing young men not to join the Forces of the Crown will be pronounced by the general public as quite just. It should act as a warning to those ne'er-do-wells who, too indolent and unpatriotic to offer their services for their country, hang about street corners and endeavour to dissuade other willing loyalists from doing their duty. A more dastardly or cowardly action at the present time it is difficult to imagine and anyone indulging in such practices may be sure of but little leniency at the hands of the magistrates if brought to book. - Credit: MIKE PETTY

Soham Explosion inquest -June 30, 1944

Soham Explosion inquest - June 30, 1944: driver Benjamin Gimbert gave a graphic account of the efforts of himself and his fireman to save Soham from destruction when they discovered a blazing wagon in their ammunition train. He was giving evidence at the resumed inquest on the two victims of the explosion, which occurred on June 2, completely wrecking the local railway station and causing considerable damage to houses in the town. The blazing wagon, loaded with 500lb bombs, was nearest the engine, and after being uncoupled from 50 other wagons was being driven away when it exploded. The fireman and a signalman lost their lives. "As we approached the station," said the train driver (Driver Gimbert, of March), "I saw a fire in the first truck attached to the engine. The bottom of the wagon was ablaze all over. I asked the fireman to uncouple the blazing truck from the remainder of the train and he uncoupled it. The fireman then re-joined me on the footplate. I thought that by pulling away with the blazing wagon, we could save the in-habitants of the town and the station. That was my main worry. As we neared the signal-box, the signalman, 'Sailor' Bridges, appeared on the platform and I shouted to him to stop the mail train. Before he replied, there was the explosion. I think we had travelled 100 to 150 yards when the explosion occurred." Verdicts of 'Misadventure' were: recorded, tribute being paid to the railwaymen's bravery. - Credit: MIKE PETTY

Swaffham Fen chapel

New Road to fen chapel - June 28, 1942. With the visit of the King and Queen to Swaffham Prior Fen recently this lonely spot has come into the news. But the Methodists pioneered this district during and last century and on Saturday the anniversary rally was held. Folk from all around the Cottenham Circuit gathered, and although the chain boat at Upware was shaky and taking water badly, the Ouse was crossed by many but others decided to try out the new concrete roads and travelled by car or cycle from Cambridge. The afternoon service was conducted by the Rev J. Gordon Bennett, minister of the Wesley Church, Cambridge. A picnic tea followed. The visitors had taken their own food, but the ladies provided cups of tea. - Credit: MIKE PETTY